‘The Other People’ – C.J. Tudor

Thank you C.J. Tudor for yet another compulsive read. It has left me rather chilled, but once I started this I was desperate to know how everything fitted together.

Our story begins with Gabe travelling home, worried he’ll be late. He sees a rusty car being driven erratically in front of him. In the rear window he sees a young girl…his daughter Izzy…but then he loses sight of the car. Calling home he’s met with the awful news that his wife and daughter have been murdered. So, who was in the car?

The next time we see Gabe is years later. He’s taken to driving up and down the motorway looking for clues as to the whereabouts of his daughter. He is no longer a person of interest, but nobody has any clues as to what might have happened.

Without giving too much away, we are then shown a number of incidents that seemingly have no connection. We see Fran and her daughter, Alice, on the run. We have service station worker Katie struggling to make ends meet after the death of her father. We have the discovery of a car in a pond, with a body inside. And we have a number of references to a young girl asleep, a beach and pebbles…and references to The Other People.

What then follows is a twisting turning read, with just enough hints to have us start making links. There’s mystery aplenty and a borderline menace that had the hairs on the back of my neck tingling.

Once I finally reached the end I felt wrung out. So many secrets; so much sadness. Throughout, there was a sense of good people making bad choices…but I guess how we act in those trying times is what defines us. I just pray that I’ll never be in that kind of situation!

 

‘The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo’ – Taylor Jenkins Reid

I’d heard lots about this book over the last few months, and the fictional Evelyn Hugo seems to have created quite a stir. The premise certainly made me curious – I couldn’t imagine what would possess someone to marry seven times – but I was reluctant to start this in case I didn’t feel quite the same way.
From the outset we are spun a story about the woman the world knows as Evelyn Hugo. We learn that her daughter has died and she is going to auction some of her well-known dresses to raise money for cancer charities. For reasons that we are not permitted to know until much later on, reclusive Evelyn agrees to an interview – but she insists on a relatively inexperienced journalist called Monique being the one she’ll talk to.
Though Evelyn holds the cards here, we follow Monique as she meets with Evelyn and prepares to interview her. Upon their first meeting we are told that Evelyn wants Monique to write her biography. We know there’ll be a reason for this, but we don’t get told what it is until we’re truly invested in the situation.
I was intrigued by the press excerpts from the time as they showed the reality of the world Evelyn was part of. We are given Evelyn’s frank account of her relationships and her determination to rise to the top of her profession. We follow Evelyn through her marriages to her co-stars, a well-known singer, a director and her best friend amongst others. We see the price she was prepared to pay for her fame and her feeling of wanting to achieve what she felt she should. What we are told fairly early on is how she sacrifices so much for her true love, the one she has never spoken of until now.
While Evelyn herself was not always the most likeable of characters, she was presented in a way that elicited sympathy. Sometimes she made terrible decisions, but she often made these decisions from a desire to do right by those she loved. I felt quite angry for her and Harry, and so many other characters, that they could not be honest about themselves because of attitudes in the world they inhabited.
Monique was a character that I couldn’t quite fathom. Her interactions with Evelyn allowed us to slowly learn about her life, and the time devoted to her background and situation certainly had me thinking she would be more integral to the story than she initially seemed to be. By the time we have revealed the exact link I was imagining all sorts. The revelation certainly justified Monique’s somewhat ambivalent attitude to Evelyn, and it made sense of her actions towards the end.

 

‘Goddess’ – Josephine Angelini

Having created rather a mess, we now reach the point where the Scions realise they have to use their talents to challenge the gods. Certainly a battle to remember.

Once again, Helen is having to use her skills to do things nobody should have to consider. After the battle in the last book, her, Lucas and Orion have become blood brothers – and Helen has taken on more skills. The question is, can she come up with the answers to prevent the mortal world becoming playthings to the gods?

This reminded me of a game of chess. Characters were each plotting moves, and some of those closest to Helen were being used in the most awful way imaginable. There’s the ongoing love triangle to resolve – though with Helen’s feelings for Lucas never in question, this isn’t much of an issue.

At some points this read like a script for a very high-budget movie. We had all sorts of mythological creatures coming into play, and we get little cameos from everyone…including Zeus.

Having some of our questions answered definitely made certain scenes easier to read. There was a clear sense that not everything was resolved, and the suggestions of what could happen in the future left it in a great place.

 

‘Autoboyography’ – Christina Lauren

I knew very little about this book before picking it up, but I am so pleased that I did.
Our main character is Tanner, a young boy who identifies as bisexual. He is out to his parents, who are supportive and honest with him in such a way that felt like this book should be a call to all parents to read, regardless of their child’s sexuality. His father is Jewish and his mother has had a difficult time, cut off from her Mormon family for supporting her sister when she came out. That family background is crucial to know for this story, as it definitely plays a huge part in how they treat Tanner.
The family have moved to a small town, mostly Mormon, and Tanner has opted to keep quiet about his sexuality. His best friend, Autumn, doesn’t know this pretty important detail about him and he imagines things will tick along until the time he leaves for college…
Then he and Autumn sign up for an elective that involves writing a novel. There’s a student who took the course the previous year who is about to have his book published and who is going to act as a support teacher during the course. The young man concerned, Sebastian Brother, is the son of the local bishop. His life is pretty much set out for him…so, it’s an inevitable complication when Tanner falls for him.
What follows is a time-old story – two people trying to work out how they feel about each other – but the back-drop of the religious background of the characters and the link to the novel-writing process makes this a little more interesting.
I veered from laughing at the cuteness of Tanner and Sebastian as they find the courage to act on their feelings for each other to almost crying at the complications they faced. Throughout, I was struck by the maturity that these characters showed – can’t imagine anyone being so clued-up at that age. Yet there was an underlying bitter-sweet feeling as the shadow of Sebastian’s struggle with his religion never went away.
This was not a book I’d heard much about prior to reading and that feels such a shame as it had such a positive feel to it. It created such a range of emotions, and there was a real honesty to the characters/their experience that I couldn’t help but fall for.

 

‘Dreamless’ – Josephine Angelini

In many ways, a standard second part of a trilogy but this was ultimately frustrating as so much was unresolved.

Helen is having to deal with the sudden arrival of her real mother. There’s weird things happening in Helen’s dreams and nobody is quite sure how to resolve the issues from recent events.

We quickly learn that a Helen is a descender and has the ability to travel into the underworld. She is, according to prophecy, the one who will do what is needed to beat the curse of the Furies. Unfortunately, she won’t be doing it with Lucas by her side.

The relationship element irritated me. They’re being very honourable and avoiding each other as it could start a war. However, they are still clearly enamoured and only being prevented from doing anything because they’re told they are first cousins. Helen’s mum clearly indicates this isn’t the case so it seems she has other reasons for wanting to keep them separate – which may be where Orion comes in.

So, a weird love triangle. An awful lot of hanging around in hell and not really getting any further with anything…all while someone evil decides to play god and try to engineer a situation that can be used to their advantage. There’s more nods to mythology and an awful lot suggested as to what might come next.

 

‘Love and Other Words’ – Christina Lauren

I don’t know if I really believe in the kind of all-consuming romance that our main characters, Elliot and Macy have. From the time they first meet it seems pretty obvious that they are closer than your average boy/girl pairing. We don’t find out for a long time why they’re not together, but we get to see them re-acquainted eleven years in the future. Things are the same between them, but there’s clearly something big they need to get over.

Told in alternating timeframes we slowly get to see the significance of this relationship.

As a way of forging a new life once his partner dies, Macy’s dad decides to buy them a second home. When they go to look at the house, Macy is shocked to see the boy next door curled up in one of the rooms reading. Rather than being freaked out by this rather odd experience, Macy sees it as a signal to begin what she clearly regards as the most honest friendship she has.

Over time Macy and Elliot realise that their closeness is not just a sign of friendship. We see them take the tentative steps towards lovers…but still no closer in the present to knowing why things went so wrong.

In the present, Macy is living a rather soulless existence. She is engaged but when she sees Elliot in a local coffee shop it’s clear that this is not going to end as she expects. Within a very short space of time the fiancé is despatched and the lack of emotion surrounding this gave one explanation for him seeming such a cardboard character.

I was expecting this to be a story of their romance. It was, but it was also a story of the little details of their lives that led to them not speaking for eleven years.
Perhaps in the real world you’d move on from such an experience. Perhaps in the real world you’d recall this relationship fondly but I cannot see you willingly turning everything upside down on the off-chance that things might still be what they were. Thankfully, this is the book world where we’re not ruled by our heads…

 

‘The Mercies’ – Kiran Millwood Hargrave

Having only read Hargrave’s fiction for younger readers I was unsure quite what to expect of this. The subject immediately made me think of The Crucible and I was intrigued by the remote physical setting and the historical setting. Having just finished, I am struck by the immersive quality to this. It caught me quite unawares and I have to say that for such an unpleasant subject it was a pleasure to read.

The book begins relatively slowly. We’re introduced to the islanders and we begin with the depiction of the dreadful storm that killed all but a handful of men. Watching Maren and the other women as they realise their husbands/sons/brothers are never coming home was a heart-wrenching moment.

Knowing that from this point forwards they would have to find ways to live with the unimaginable immediately created sympathy with their experience, which certainly helps when we see what is in store for them.

I have been fascinated by the posts Hargrave has shared on Twitter showing her visit to the place which inspired this read. It was remote, and it reminded me of the books I’ve read about life on places such as St Kilda. Even in the modern world such places are remote, and it takes a certain mindset to survive in such conditions. To do so in the time in which this story is set must have been tough.
Following the details we’re given about the island women I was unsure why we suddenly switched to the character of Ursa, the daughter of a shipowner who lives in relative ease in Bergen. When her father organises a marriage to Absalom Cornet we learn that Ursa is to become the wife of this man she’s never met before – a man sent from Scotland to travel to Vargø and investigate the lives of the women left behind.

Although we’re told this focuses on the real-life events on Vardø and the witch trials of 1621, the sense of unease created once Ursa arrives on the island was distinctly uncomfortable. Seeing this young girl struggle to develop as she becomes little more than the property of her husband was uncomfortable. Though she grows closer to Maren it doesn’t take long before relationships fracture and the hunt begins.

Once the details of the witch hunt were in the open, Hargrave holds little back in depicting the true horror of this time. At the time of reading I was struck by the obvious pride felt by Absalom and others at what they were doing. Seeing the way the women turned on each other was definitely uncomfortable, and yet there were little glimpses of positivity in the way Maren and Ursa turned to each other and sought comfort where they could.

This is one of those stories that I could imagine reading again, delighting in the depiction of setting and characters. It is both brutal and tender. The ending left many questions, but it also served to resolve some of the concerns raised. I can’t wait to see what others I know make of this.

 

‘Starcrossed’ – Josephine Angelini

When Helen hears the news of a new family coming to live in their small Nantucket home she thinks it might herald a new experience…talk about an understatement!

From the off we can see that there’s something unusual about Helen. It’s not until she meets the new family and attacks Lucas at school that she comes to see there’s more to the odd experiences she’s had over time. For reasons she doesn’t know straight away she is both irresistibly drawn to Lucas at the same time as wanting to kill him. Nobody can see a way out of this but, eventually, they end up reconciling their obvious differences.

What follows is unusual to say the least!

We see to have an awful lot of things going on here. We have: a mysterious family; unexpected skills; unusual situations that some know about but not others; weird dreams; unexplained nighttime activity and descendants of Greek gods with special skills.

Breaking the story into separate components it’s beyond ridiculous. The love-story is clearly doomed from the start, and we don’t ever get any hints that it’ll be anything other than a disaster. Helen is more than a little reckless with her safety and new friendships, but with everyone hiding details it’s perhaps inevitable that problems will arise.

While it may be far-fetched the story was relatively engaging. The nods to Greek mythology kept it entertaining and it was certainly left in an exciting place for the next phase.

 

‘Bitter Falls’ – Rachel Caine

Yet another explosive read in the series…

Having settled into their home, it’s no surprise that some still resist the presence of Gwen, Sam and the kids. There’s plenty of comments and little incidents that are designed to make them leave. Gwen resists this, determined to give her kids some form of normal but we know this is always going to be tricky.

When Gwen is asked to investigate the disappearance of a young man called Remy, nothing could have prepared her for what she gets caught up in. Her investigations lead her to a young woman who has tried to escape a cult…but they’re tracking her and things quickly become awkward.

When Sam and Connor are abducted by the cult we know they’re getting reckless. Something big is planned but Gwen is determined to do whatever she has to in order to protect her family.

What follows is big. There’s lots of switching views so we see the outside picture alongside the experience of those inside the compound. Part of me feared where this would go, but it had me on the edge. I feared the outcome at the same time as being desperate to see things resolved, however that was done.

The question for Gwen and her family is…what next?